Roaming around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, it's good to have C. Andrew McLean with you. McLean, a principal at tvsdesign, helped design the building, which opened in 2003. When asked if he ever gets lost in the enormous building, he laughed and said no.

The complex, which is hosting this year's AIA convention, sits at a strategic location on the edge of downtown and the historic Shaw neighborhood. To prevent the center from blocking the flow of traffic and overwhelming Shaw's mostly low-rise residential fabric, McLean submerged the sprawling exhibition halls below grade and let L Street run through the middle of the site. Above ground, he divided the structure into three separate buildings to reduce its impact on its neighbors.

McLean and his firm are still busy designing convention centers, even though the great wave of constructing such urban behemoths has passed. Right now they are renovating Troy, Michigan's 700,000-square-foot convention center and  converting an adjacent sports arena into an elegant ballroom for the complex. Their design will also establish a much stronger connection between the building and the Detroit River, tapping a resource that the existing architecture mostly ignores.

In Nashville, tvsdesign has designed a new convention with a large wavy roof protected from the sun by acres of plantings. The complex, which will have 356,000 square feet of exhibition space, will be completed next year. According to McLean, the curves in the roof and other parts of the building echo the shape of the musical instruments used to create the Country sounds that have made Nashville famous.